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An ode to the video game himbo

Games need more hot and sexy airheads with hearts of gold

TextAlim KherajIllustrationMarija Marc

The characters in video games can be so serious. Take a look at some of the biggest releases of the last few years and you’ll find po-faced grittiness: Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, Kratos in God of War, the Tarnished in Elden Ring and Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2, to name but a few. They even transformed Lara Croft from a gun-wielding grave robber to a complex girlboss in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot.

Of course, there are lighter games. Nintendo’s output isn’t known for its dark realism, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any narrative complexity when playing Fortnite. Still, games with immersive storytelling and realistic, flawed characters are inescapable, especially from AAA developers.

What a treat, then, to fire up the recent remake of Resident Evil 4 and get reintroduced to 90s boy band wannabe Leon Kennedy, one of gaming’s most iconic himbos. With hair ripped straight from the head of an 18-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio and the physique a Calvin Klein-era Marky Mark would have envied, Leon is the dreamiest of gaming dreamboats. A police officer-turned-government agent with a penchant for firearms and a surprisingly agile high kick, he’s a throwback to the beautified and action heroes of a bygone era: a hot and sexy airhead with a heart of gold.

First making an appearance as Racoon City’s simplest rookie law enforcer in Resident Evil 2, Leon is just one of the franchise’s empty-headed hotties (looking at you Ethan Winters and Chris Redfield). However, he is, perhaps, the most recognisable. That’s partly because of Resident Evil 4, the entry where Capcom fully embraced schlocky B-movie schtick.

This tone is made apparent within the opening section of the game. After finding himself in the Spanish countryside on a quest to rescue the President’s kidnapped daughter, Leon stumbles across a village overrun with zombies. Leon, controlled by the player, runs around attempting to eliminate as many brain-eating villagers as possible – including one with a bag over his head who also wields a chainsaw – but his attempts prove futile. He’s saved by a toiling bell, which inexplicably summons the villagers away. Then he says it: “Where’s everyone going? Bingo?” 

This throwaway line sets the mood for the rest of the game. It’s part of why Resident Evil 4, both the original and the remake, are so beloved, and on YouTube there are numerous videos compiling the dumbest things sweet baby Leon says throughout the game.

But Leon is not the only himbo dragged from gaming past to present. The 2020 remake of Final Fantasy VII took protagonist Cloud Strife from cute cartoonish blocks and rendered him as a ripped and steely-eyed male model. He might not throw out as many cheesy one-liners as Leon, but Cloud is every bit as intellectually bland. He moves through the game like a dopey puppy, flitting between love interests while remaining respectful and completely oblivious to the opportunities that are right in front of him. He also looks great in a vest top.

However, one of my personal favourite himbos from gaming has to be Commander Shepard from Bioware’s groundbreaking sci-fi RPG series Mass Effect. Deliberately designed to have the personality of a slice of plain bread to allow for optimal player immersion, Shepard (should you choose to play as a man) is a total meathead, stacked and stupid, roaming through space with three brain cells and a coterie of compelling companions. Sure, he has to make decisions and captain a spaceship, but he has this look on his face that’s so gormless you can’t help but feel he’s completely oblivious to the consequences of his actions. Does he know that he was low-key resurrected from the dead in Mass Effect 2? How does he feel when his companions die? Does he agonise when he potentially causes the genocide of an entire species? Does he even know where or who he is? Nothing is clear.

Thankfully, Bioware is currently working on a new entry to the Mass Effect series. The announcement trailer even teased the potential return of Commander Shepard; one can only hope, should he return, that he’s as buff and brainless as the original trilogy.

Naturally, there are more himbos I could rattle off: arguments have been made that Link from the Legend of Zelda is a himbo (agreed), while more recent examples include Jin Sakai from Ghosts of Tsushima, Peter Parker in Insomniac's Spider-Man, Caspar from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Cyberpunk 2077’s Jackie (RIP), and Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series (sure he can solve puzzles but the man is still clueless).

There is an appeal to playing himbo characters in a game. According to a study by Dr Casey Hart, associate professor of mass communication at Stephen F Austin State University, while there is a discussion to be had about gamers using in-game avatars as a form of idealised self-projection, players are more likely “to experiment with alternate self constructs” and “use avatars as facilitators for experimentation than for vehicles for direct projection”.

This certainly tracks. The Urban Dictionary defines a himbo as “ a large (broad, tall, or buff) attractive man, who tends to be not very bright, but usually extremely nice and respectful”. You might be lucky enough to have some of these traits, but to exhibit them all? Well, you’re one of the lucky few. It makes sense, then, that by playing video games where himbos are the heroes, players get to experiment with traits that they may or may not hold. And while being good-looking shouldn’t be a prerequisite to allow for this experimentation, it certainly helps. In her book Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach, game researcher Katherine Isbister suggests that game characters are hot in part because of what is known as the halo effect, which is when positive qualities such as kindness, strength and sensitivity are automatically attributed to people who are good-looking.

By automatically attributing these qualities to a character, players are more likely to have a good time while playing as them. As Isbister writes: “Player-characters are an important component of the fantasy experience of a game. Powerful player-characters are often those that speak to many players’ real-life hopes, fears, and issues. They offer players a chance to enact them and explore possibilities.” 

Nevertheless, what constitutes attractive is subjective: the fantasies of one player will differ from another. If you’re basic like me and were raised on Diet Coke adverts, boy bands and repeat screenings of Titanic, then Leon Kennedy’s sweeping fringe, pretty features and doll-like vacancy will be enough. However, other gamers might want their himbos flavoured differently. Whatever floats your boat. All I ask is that developers keep them coming. Yes, video games should be engaging, thought-provoking and explore innovative and realistic storytelling. But they should also be stupid and fun and filled with hotties. Gamers deserve both.

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